We just posted our entry on the surrender at Appomattox, certainly one of the most famous scenes of the Civil War if not of all American history. We already have an entry on the Appomattox Campaign that culminated in the surrender, and we have entries on Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant. So I suppose in some respects this new entry might seem redundant. Except that it’s the iconic nature of that scene—Lee and Grant somberly hunched over small tables in the McLean family parlor—that has preoccupied the American imagination. It begs for a few words of its own.
And Stephen Cushman expertly provides them. Here is his description of how Grant and Lee presented themselves:
Between these two-and-a-half hours Lee, accompanied by his aide Colonel Charles Marshall and, according to Grant, “dressed in a full uniform which was entirely new, and … wearing a sword of considerable value,” met with Grant, his staff, and several Union generals, among them Sheridan, Ord, and George A. Custer, but not Meade. Years later Grant reflected that in his “rough traveling suit, the uniform of a private with the straps of a lieutenant-general” he “must have contrasted very strangely with a man so handsomely dressed, six feet high and of faultless form.” Subsequent memories and representations of this moment have confirmed Grant’s sense of the contrast, with each man’s appearance standing, respectively, for a larger social ethos, admired or denigrated, depending on a particular observer’s point of view.
That captures the moment perfectly: it was big enough for everyone.
IMAGE: A painting of Grant and Lee at Appomattox by Tom Lovell